Asbestos clean-up bills have cost private contractors tens of thousands of dollars and in a number of recent cases have even reached in excess of $100,000. These could have been prevented if appropriate methods of working with the asbestos material were determined before starting the job.
Private contractors are often called in to domestic premises to clean and/or paint an old roof, undertake renovations or even knock down an old structure. It is important to know what to do if material suspected of containing asbestos is encountered.
Ignoring the legal obligations could cost more than just the decontamination and clean-up bill. Individuals could also face a fine of up to $75,000 or one year’s jail, while corporations could face a $375,000 fine.
Using high-powered water hoses to clean roofs which contain asbestos is an example of inappropriate work and is prohibited by law. Fibres can be dislodged and fall into surrounding areas and neighbouring properties. In these cases, a low-water-pressure broom or other appropriate methods should be used to clean asbestos roofs.
Another inappropriate work practice is the use of high-powered cutting equipment including drills while working on asbestos-containing material. For example, drilling into wall sheeting that contains asbestos can release asbestos fibres into the air. This can simply be prevented by the contractor using a manual drill and a wet technique to contain asbestos dust.
When a contamination has occurred in Queensland, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland will be called in to investigate. If this happens, one of several things may happen - a prohibition notice to stop the work, an improvement notice to clean up the contamination or to undertake air monitoring, or an on-the-spot fine may be issued. The property owner will probably then need to employ an expert licensed asbestos removalist to clean up any contamination.
Asbestos was typically used in fibro roofs, walls and archways. In many older houses, fibro was also used internally for wet areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and laundries. Asbestos cement can also be found in flat, profiled and corrugated sheets, shingles, rigid board insulation, underlay, floor and ceiling tiles, pipes and guttering.
Due to the potential for serious health risks associated with inhaling asbestos fibres, it is essential that exposure to it is effectively managed. These fibres are a major health hazard and the adverse health effects, such as lung cancer, can take decades to become evident. The lack of immediate health effects has often meant that victims are unaware of the dangers.
It is often very difficult to identify asbestos by sight. The only way to be certain is to have a sample of the material analysed by an accredited laboratory. Where asbestos-containing materials are suspected of being present on a site, all works must stop immediately and a sample of the suspect material tested. If unsure, play it safe and assume that it does contain asbestos.
Removing an asbestos sample must only be carried out by a competent person, such as a builder holding a Class B licence for asbestos removal work.
For more information on identifying asbestos and where this can be done, visit the National Association of Testing Authorities website at www.nata.asn.au or call (07) 3870 3844.